New women's studies major and upcoming women's center address gender issues
Nov. 9, 2005
By Anita Martin
A space of their own
The roar of women is getting louder. In 2004, women at Ohio University made up 53 percent of total enrollment. About 30 women's clubs and associations exist on campus, with many more from the surrounding community. Still, many women on campus feel that alliances are too disjointed.
In 2007, a women's center will open in the new Baker Center, providing a gathering for women and men alike to address gender issues and a networking base from which women's groups can connect across campus and the community.
A mistake was printed last week in Women on campus unite, part 1: "…by 2007, the new student center will house the university's first women's center."
The university's first women's center actually opened in January 1973 in McGuffey 304, receiving funding that spring as a registered student organization.
Negotiations for Ohio University's first women's center had begun with the organization of the University Women's Union (UWU) in 1972. UWU was assisted by three faculty members including Beverly Jones, herself, then Beverly Price, assistant to the president for equal opportunity programs, along with Patricia Bayer Richard, government professor, and Anne Goff, director of student life
During its three years of operation, the center organized support groups, panels and seminars addressing gender issues. The center also served as a "clearinghouse for information" on what the university offered women, and attempted to "fill in gaps," such as setting up a rape crisis center. Cultural events such as movie showings, musical performances and a guerilla theater troupe were organized by the center.
In fall 1975, when the center relocated to 320 Baker Center, the center's administrative structure deliberately dissolved. Graduate student Cam Stoufer directed the center from spring 1974 until fall 1975, when members opted for a "cooperative, non-hierarchical collective approach" with no director and no formal, paid administrative positions of any kind.
Following the changes, center activity slowed. In the Jan. 15, 1976, issue of The Post, then former treasurer Donna Kull stated: "It's difficult to retain a collectivist philosophy," noting that the center had become a meeting place for a "core group of about ten women." The center closed in 1976.
Despite the closure, women continued the push for progress. Campus activism became increasingly public, with such demonstrations as the Women's Advisory Committee protest outside of Cutler Hall in 1977 and the Athens Women's Collective protest at a 1979 Founder's Day event.
The late 1970s also witnessed the university's first woman vice president, Dean of Students (1976-1982) Carol Harter, establishment of the women's studies program, recognition of salary inequities, a relative increase in women's employment and the first annual protest of violence against women: the Take Back the Night march.
According to Elaine Taylor, Student Senate commissioner for women's affairs, many women's groups focus on gender equality, but lack a general coordination of efforts.
"Of course there's always the matter of the two genders seeing each other as equals," Taylor says. "You need that to make society work. But also, women need to see each other as equals. I feel that different women's groups need to interact more and feed off of each other's energy to become one amazing force. A center could help."
For student activist Kat Tildes, a women's center could help educate about women's issues and translate abstract issues into "collective action."
Kerensa Cadenas, president of Women Acting for Change, adds that a center may support a sense of identity among women and nurture a "women's culture on campus."
An affinity for networking, whether political, social or cultural, already connects advocates for the women's center.
"We will create an umbrella place to facilitate conversation, programming and recruitment among campus groups and individuals," explains Judith Grant, director of women's studies and chair of the provost's Commission on Women, charged with determining a mission for the upcoming women's center.
"This will be a place where women and men from various constituencies can bring problems and concerns related to gender," Grant says. "It's amazing when you bring people together from different positions and disciplines, the synergy that can result."
Problems and concerns addressed at the center will range from the mundane particular, like where to breastfeed on campus, to the broad politic, like affirmative action policy, Grant says.
According to administrative and faculty representatives, gender balance in faculty and staff tops gender issues today.
"There are still concerns about recruitment, retention and opportunities for advancement," Krendl says. "This seems more of a problem for faculty and staff. Among students, females now outnumber males."
Figures reveal that female presence dwindles as rank increases. For example, in fall 2003, females made up 39.71 percent of assistant professors, 33.56 percent of associate professors and 24.61 percent of full professors.
To launch the center, Provost Krendl has set up a Commission on Women comprising student, faculty, staff and community representatives. Their charge: to determine the women's center mission, to oversee gender issues and to monitor and communicate the progress of the university.
The commission, chaired by Judith Grant, hopes to complete planning for the women's center by the end of fall quarter. They will spend the remainder of the year establishing a more streamlined standing committee for women's affairs.
Anita Martin is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.